Southend United 1
by RICK COWDERY
MAYBE appropriately, given they were wearing their new away kit and playing Southend, the Pilgrims suffered a case of opening-day blues at Roots Hall.
A goal from Barry Corr, a quarter of an hour into the new season, divided the two teams in a game of few chances in which endeavour was the primary virtue on display.
After an impressive pre-season for the Greens, hopes among the 1,000 travelling supporters were high that Argyle would get their Sky Bet League 2 campaign off to a winning start.
However, their new-look line-up failed to gel instantly and suffered only the Pilgrims’ second defeat in the last 11 curtain-raisers. I guess that is why they call Southend ‘the Blues’.
The Argyle starting line-up included five new Pilgrims and two returning ones, illustrating the depth of manager John Sheridan’s summer shake-up.
Luke McCormick won the goalkeeping position from Jake Cole by the shortest of heads, while striker Reuben Reid began his third stint in the Green on a season-long loan from Championship new boys Yeovil.
His partner up front in an attacking-looking 4-4-2 formation was debutant Marvin Morgan, the two spearheading a four-man midfield in which captain Conor Hourihane was the only old face: he was partnered in the engine-room by Dominic Blizzard, with Lewi Alessandra and Rommy Boco on the flanks.
The final first-time Pilgrim was Andre Blackman, a like-for-like replacement at left-back for the departed Onismor Bhasera. Durrell Berry was on the opposite side of the defence with, in the absence of Max Blanchard (suspended) and Guy Branston (injured), Paul Wotton and Curtis Nelson as centre-backs.
The Shrimpers’ line-up included two former Pilgrims: Will Atkinson, on the right flank, and long-throw specialist Ryan Leonard, in the left centre. Another ex Green, Conor Clifford, started on the substitutes’ bench.
Argyle started brightly in the Essex sunshine and had no trouble in repelling what limited early attacks Southend could put together.
That balance was tipped in the 15th minute, however, when the previously assured Pilgrims’ rearguard was scattered by some quick interpassing that saw winger Anthony Straker feed Marc Laird inside the penalty area.
Although forced wide, Laird kept his footing and crossed low for striker Corr, who, with Blue shirts scattered hither and thither, was able to take his time before shooting home with his left foot.
It proved to be a rare clear-cut chance of a first half in which both sides did a lot of admirable huffing but could not get within puffing range of each other’s goal.
Argyle’s better opportunities came from speculative long-range efforts from their strike pairing, but neither Morgan nor Reid could exercise the required control over their volleys.
The half concluded with Wotton, playing his 477th Argyle game, clutching his ribcage and in some pain following an accidental collision with McCormick.
It did not prevent him having an injury-time dig at goal from a training-ground routine free-kick won by Blackman after a surging run was ended by Laird on the edge of the Southend penalty area.
He flicked Reid’s short pass up before lobbing the ball over the wall for a shot that, although on target, did not have enough power to trouble Shrimpers’ goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.
It was Wotton’s final act of a disappointing half, with Jamie Richards taking his place during the interval for only his second league match.
Argyle struggled to get a toe-hold after the break with Southend willing to try their luck from the edge of the area. Leonard saw one shot blocked by Richards while Atkinson’s strike was deflected for a corner.
McCormick was called on to make his first save of the season when Freddy Eastwood whipped in a free-kick that had the Argyle keeper scrambling at his near post.
That preceded the Pilgrims’ first real scoring opportunity from open play when the ball fell for Reid to test Bentley with a first-time shot from the edge of the area.
McCormick did even better a few minutes later, getting down quickly to keep out Laird’s powerful drive, before Reid was replaced by Tyler Harvey.
Hourihane tried one from range that extended Bentley, and Blackman fired a speculative shot over the crossbar.
Try as they might, Argyle could get no closer to avoiding an empty return from their trip to Essex.
Southend United (4-4-2):
17 Daniel Bentley; 2 John White (capt), 5 Mark Phillips, 6 Luke Prosser, 3 Ben Coker; 12 Will Atkinson, 4 Marc Laird, 18 Ryan Leonard, 11 Anthony Straker; 10 Barry Corr (Conor Clifford 86), 7 Freddy Eastwood (9 Craig Reid 68). Substitutes (not used):
1 Paul Smith (gk), 8 Michael Timlin, 19 Julian Bennett, 20 Seedy Njie, 21 Jack Payne.
23 Luke McCormick; 2 Durrell Berry, 15 Paul Wotton (22 Jamie Richards half-time), 17 Curtis Nelson, 3 Andre Blackman; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 6 Conor Hourihane (c), 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 76), 8 Rommy Boco; 10 Marvin Morgan, 9 Reuben Reid (18 Tyler Harvey 71). Substitutes (not used):
1 Jake Cole (gk), 24 Isaac Vassell, 25 Ben Purrington, 30 Ryan Lane.
Berry 69, Morgan 72.
7,055 (1,146 away)
Photos by Dave Rowntree, sponsored by the 50-50 Lottery